Care and Feeding

Turn the Seat Around!

A guy who works for me has his kid in the wrong size car seat. I need to tell him.

A man having an in-depth conversation with his boss.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by thodonal/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I appreciated the advice you gave in your previous column about giving unsolicited parental advice, but I’d like a specific ruling on when it’s appropriate to go all in on car seat safety. I’m pretty clear about what is acceptable for my children. Cars are dangerous, so I’m pretty conservative—a rear-facing seat past age 2, a harness until the child can cope with a booster (in our case, that was second grade for the oldest and “not yet” for the next one).

I have generally stayed out of everyone else’s business and have only ever criticized one car seat setup—my mother’s, and she was glad I helped. However, someone who reports to me at work posted a photo of his 22-month-old in a forward-facing booster seat, which feels so egregiously unsafe.

Can I say something? Do I need to let it go? The employee relationship obviously complicates things. Odds are they’ll never be in an accident and everything will be fine. But still …

—Car Seat Safety Evangelist

Dear CSSE,

I think your situation differs from the one in the letter you mentioned because that was about talking to strangers, whereas you’re weighing whether to talk to someone with whom you have a (literal) working relationship. And of course the nature and quality of that relationship will be your guideline. Putting aside for a moment the question of power, do you have the kind of relationship with him where you can offer anything along the lines of parenting advice? Do the two of you talk about shared parenting experiences and troubles? If so, you have an in. You can simply bring it up the next time you’re talking about your kids. “Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to tell you, I think I heard that 22 months is too young for a forward-facing car seat? Not entirely sure, but you may want to check it out or follow up with your pediatrician.”

If the two of you don’t have that kind of relationship, then your approach may need to be more delicate. Something along the lines of: “You know I normally wouldn’t say anything, but I couldn’t help noticing that you have your kid in a forward-facing seat, and usually that’s only supposed to happen after age 2.” Both of these I would do in person and one-on-one, not online in front of everyone.

Also keep in mind that for a long time the accepted standard was one year and 20 pounds, so it’s totally possible that your employee is still going by that guideline. You may just be helping him find his way to the updated standards, nothing more complicated than that.

Regardless of how you do it, I think this is a perfectly fine situation in which to say something. If you avoid being judge-y or demanding, you should be clear of any unintended expectation that his job depends on taking your advice. You’re not asking him out on a date. You’re reminding him what the current standards are for child car seat safety, and you’re doing it because you know he cares for his kid and would probably want to know. Let that spirit of caring helpfulness guide you and you should be OK.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have recently become the aunt to two little girls who I am able to see every few weeks. I have developed a close relationship to the oldest, a 4-year-old, and it is lovely. I always look forward to seeing her, and we have a great time together. The problem is, when I have to leave or she has to go to bed, she gets extremely upset. I would hate for my visits to be a source of stress for either her or her parents. What are some ways to make my departure less painful?

—Agonizing Auntie (at Bedtime)

Dear AA(aB),

I am happy to inform you that there is nothing you can do about this and it’s none of your business anyway. I know that sounds harsh. But it’s true. It is not your visits that are the source of stress, and you alone are not making anyone cry. This 4-year-old is a 4-year-old, and 4-year-olds cry about things. When it’s not about you, it’s about which cup she’s drinking from, which jammies are in the wash, or which annoying kids’ show it is long past time to stop watching.

Even insofar as there is parenting advice around transitions, it’s just that: parenting advice, not auntie-ing advice. Perhaps it would be helpful to count down to your departure in 20 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes, but outside of that, this is her parents’ responsibility and I can assure you they are, if not at ease with it, at least used to it. The only mistake you could genuinely make here would be to stop coming over because you fear it’s hard for the parents. Believe me, they are grateful for you playing with their children and giving them a break, even if it means a few tears when it’s over.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My partner is an Indian immigrant, and I am white. We adopted our son from my wife’s home city and have done everything possible to make sure he feels connected with his culture and country. We speak Hindi at home, cook Indian food often, and watch Bollywood movies as a family. We’ve had the “you’re adopted” conversation, but he was 4 when we adopted him, so he remembers parts of the process. He tells everyone we are a “normal Indian family” and draws me as a brown person. (His teachers are very surprised when his interracial lesbian mothers show up for conferences.) But he seems to be under the impression that race is how a person acts, not their nationality or their skin color, and refers to people as “Indian” or “white” (which is his name for anyone besides me who’s not Indian). He’s accidentally offended a few people, and we are considering talking to him about what race really means, but his worldview is so precious we have a hard time wanting to shatter it. My wife thinks it’s hilarious, but as a white person trying to navigate raising a person of color, I’ve heard snide comments from people about me “tricking” him and hiding reality from him. How do I shut them up? And do we need to have the race talk with a 7-year-old?

—A Race Against Time

Dear ARAT,

I don’t think there is a “the race talk.” Because it is not a talk but a series of talks conducted over the course of an entire childhood. That said, I’m always surprised when someone fears shattering a kid’s worldview about race. If your kid thought that the sun traveled up and down because of a chariot in the sky being pulled by invisible gods, that would be precious, but that preciousness would not be reason enough for you to avoid telling them the truth. What is it about race that makes us feel as though kids being misinformed about basic facts is somehow acceptable or ideal?

It probably bears repeating here that “colorblindness” is neither good nor anti-racist. People have different skin colors; those skin colors relate to experiences of culture and community, and we should not be afraid to be honest with kids about that, just as we are not afraid to talk about the colors of houses and cars.

I also would like to point out a tendency many parents have to think of “discussions about race” as being the same as discussions about people of color. Really, in America, talking about race should mean talking about whiteness. It would, in fact, be more anti-racist to acknowledge that whiteness is a culture and a race rather than a default state of normalcy from which every nonwhite person, place, or thing is a deviation that needs to be explained. You should absolutely be talking to your son about race in this regard.

Your son should know that the people in books and TV shows that are depicted as white are being depicted as being of a certain race by choice. Your son should know that there are other races in the world and what those races are. And your son should even know that there is a history of treating people unfairly because of race, and that you and your family (presumably) don’t support that unfairness, and that you are (hopefully) actively working against it.

This is not too much knowledge for a kid. I presume your kid knows that people can die in fires, that guns and war exist, and that not every stranger should be blindly trusted. These are all bad and scary things, but we are totally fine talking to our kids about them, so if they can handle that, then they can handle knowing about both skin color and race.

None of this is to discount that the true story of race in this country is god-awful, horrific, and brutal. But you don’t have to initiate an in-depth discussion of the three-fifths compromise. You can, however, establish that race is real, inequality often exists, and you and your family don’t believe in this inequality and work against it. As for the rest, you can answer his questions honestly and completely when he asks them.

Good luck.